The Baltimore Ravens have a huge task ahead of them today as they face the AFC East Champion New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium, where they were 8-0 in the 2009 regular season and are 11-0 in their post season history on their home turf. The Ravens will need to leave it all on the field as it will take their most complete effort of the season in order to escape Foxboro with an upset victory today.
However, all true Ravens fans know this team has what it takes to win this game, as they have seen the flashes of brilliance that has teased the fans throughout the season on how good the team could have been. Unfortunately, those flashes were way too brief and usually less than the full sixty minutes necessary to win games in the NFL.
Even the Patriots have seen just how dominant the Ravens can be at times, as they were backed up against their own goal line with seconds to go in the game in week four. They saw a pass clank off the chest of the Ravens' Mark Clayton and fall harmlessly to the ground before they could exhale and secure the victory. New England knows that if they don't bring their best they will be eliminated as well, but also know that they have one of the NFL's best post season player in QB Tom Brady. Brady may be without his top WR, Wes Welker, but he has won three Super Bowls without any big name wideouts and Welker's absence should not make a difference in today's game.
As Ravens fans have discussed all week, this one's on the Ravens' second year QB, Joe Flacco. Flacco put the ball up 47 times in the teams' first meeting and if he has to do that again, it will probably mean an early end to the Ravens season. Baltimore has focused its offense on its running game, and Flacco passing has been an acceptable complement to it, not the focal point of it. This has resulted in three wins in the past four games, and in all four including the loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh in week 16, Ravens' running backs have exceed the century mark. If the Ravens want to have any chance at winning today, they must run the ball early, often and with success against the Pats.
Baltimore's offensive line is much better at opening holes than protecting the QB and to keep the front seven of the Patriots on their heels will only make the passing game more effective. Mind you, while Joe Flacco is no Tom Brady, he has a rocket for an arm and can hit the long pass if the Pats' DB's creep up too close to the line as the running game begins to wear down their defense.
However, we have not yet spoken about the Patriots offense against the Ravens defense, namely Brady's plan to attack the secondary. Despite the loss of Welker, Brady has a number of capable targets, from Randy Moss to Ben Watson, much less Kevin Faulk out of the backfield. Don't expect RB Fred Taylor to have much success running the ball and don't expect the Patriots to even care. They are a pass first team and their ability to move the ball against the Ravens will hinge on Brady's arm and his receivers' hands. If the Ravens can get any sort of pass rush and keep the refs' yellow flags in their waistbands, then it should be an interesting match up today.
Pretty much everyone and their mothers are picking the Patriots to move on to face the San Diego Chargers next week and the Ravens to head home to ponder what if. The Cincinnati Bengals are already starting their vacations as they let the New York Jets know that they could be beat by laying down in their week 17 contest and then letting them come into their own crib and spank them in front of their own fans. No reason the Baltimore Ravens can't do the same thing today if they play the game that we expected them to do all season.
What time is it? Gametime!
Prediction: Ravens 28-24